Wednesday, May 30, 2012

This is a Sartorial Blog--I Think

Hell, I don’t know. I suppose that thematically and word count/photo subject-wise, this is a sartorial blog. On the other hand, my randomanalia and ADD spritzed drivel could also make the case that this is my parking lot for everything and nothing. And because I’ve had zero interest in this being a commercial endeavor, I haven’t really given too much of a damn. And others have been known to define this blog in various ways…
 “It’s a divorced father and his daughter blog.”
  “No…it’s an antique toy soldier…
 …and caricature …
 …and sporadically, an art/art history…
…and book blog.” Oy.
 “Bullshit. It’s a blog that tells the world when it’s ok to wear seasonal fabrics…
 …and seasonal shoes.”
 “Silly fools, this blog is a fetish site for the Belgian Shoes enterprise in NYC”
"Nope. It's becoming centric to Flusser hand-me-down bespoke shoes and Cleverleys too."
"Idiots...all of you. It's about socks and you'd know that if you'd keep up with things." 
"Y'all are crazy. Everyone knows that this blog is about Martinis and being a functional alcoholic.
Actually, I suppose it’s about all of that and none of it with any level of true depth and erudition…just how I like it. Remember last year? When I caught myself caring too much about what I wrote, how often I wrote it and who read it? I abruptly quit the whole damn thing. Balance is key and since my return, I’ve made sure to not lose sight of that. I won’t quit writing stuff that intrigues me but I feel no pressure to write something every day. What I am gonna do is commit to posting something at least once per week. And an email that I received the other morning prompted me to turn my reply to a reader’s nice email into this blog post. Here’s my email …

“Good morning and thanks for your email. I was looking last night at the precipitous decline in the number of blog stories that I write. I think it’s rather predictable for most bloggers over time, to run out of steam…unless of course, they are doing it for a living or have unlimited time to do it. I fall in neither category. I called the latest post “Trad Ivy Tuesday” and labelled it as such for a reason. I am committing to something at least every Tuesday and hopefully will also write at least one more story each week in addition. I long ago struggled with the option of just throwing some kind of damn picture up there every day in between longer stories…just to keep people tuned in. But then I discovered tumblr for that.
 The other thing competing with my blogging time is a transition that I’m amidst with LFG. She’s reached another level—all good—she’s a straight A student and a sweet, empathetic little gal. But my access to her has plummeted. 
So I’m amidst getting my place in Old Town ready to rent—I moved back into one of my rental properties after we sold our marital home—and am looking at rental properties in Chevy Chase and Bethesda. 
My goal is to be within ten-fifteen minutes of LFG so that I can be more spontaneously available to help out and continue to be constant in her life. The CC/B area is a different vibe than little old Alexandria but that’s a small price to pay in order to stay at a reasonably high spot on LFG’s dance card.
 The stunner date(s)! You probably  know…or if you don’t, you should, that I talk a ton of smack in those blog stories. The middle age man/woman dating scene is fun bit tedious. The “stunner” in question has four young adult kids. So the heck with spontaneity and any level of throwing caution to the wind…just finding a mutually workable two hour window for a bottle swill and a crab cake is a massive task.

Shit. I think I just wrote a blog post.

Thanks for saying hello. I trust that all is well in your world.”
 Onward. Mildly sunburned and missing my LFG like crazy.


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trad-Ivy Tuesday: Mr. Secretary and the Belgians

My buddy David turned me on to Acheson Country, a great little chronicle by Dean Acheson’s son about growing up Acheson. It’s a one-sitting read and is a delightful anecdotathon of WASP Ascendancy, conduct and deportment unique to days gone by as well as a glimpse of a Georgetown and a Washington D.C. that no longer exists. There’s also plenty of weigh-in on sartorial Acheson. And before you start wondering about the Belgians-Acheson connection, be patient. I’ll weave it together in the finale. I may no longer blog regularly enough to keep you aware of my highly prized techniques; but please let’s not forget some of the twisty-turny sorties that I’ve taken you on before. So settle down. And if anyone has to pee, I’d suggest you go and do so now.
 Predictably, reading Acheson Country only whetted my appetite so I then read Acheson’s memoirs, Present at the Creation. I’d love to have Acheson and a few others at the table for a dialogue on their impressions of the current state of political discourse and on compromise and the high art of collaboration with the proverbial other side. My hunch is that Acheson and others would be appalled by our current wading pool of inside-the-beltway venom that characterizes Washington politics.
True to his WASP-ness, Acheson was concerned about how dress clothes conveyed his professional bearing and station…but not too much. Mr. Secretary was exacting in what he liked and wore and his attention to detail borders on excessive. I guess that similar to the reaction of some men included in George Frazier’s TheArt of Wearing Clothes, Acheson would probably be flummoxed by the idea that he was in a pantheon of exemplary Trad-Ivy style icons.  Acheson was sartorially correct as opposed to Adolph Menjou’s over-studied precision. He was the properly sequenced sartorialist to the Kennedy clan’s delightfully dishevelled, unintentional Trad-Ivy BostonIrish Sprezzatura.
Here’s an excerpt from historian David McCullough’s introduction to Acheson Country. “I saw my first authentic, flesh-and-blood personage of history—my first Great Man on the hoof, as it were—on a morning in New Haven, Connecticut, in the fall of 1953. Or maybe 1954. I was a Yale undergraduate on my way to class, heading along York Street, alone and wrapped in my own undergraduate fog, when all at once, at the corner of where the high priced clothing stores were concentrated, out of the door of J. Press stepped Dean Acheson.”
“…there was no mistaking him. He couldn’t have been more conspicuous. Or I more astonished. Yet there he was not thirty feet ahead, the former Secretary of State, member of the Yale Corporation, Class of 1915 and for many of us he was something of a hero…for the way he had faced the attacks of Senator Joe McCarthy.”
“It wasn’t just that he looked bigger than life but that he seemed poised there on York Street, in drab New Haven, almost overdoing the responsibility of being Dean Acheson—the spectacular tailoring, the mustache, the lift of his chin. It was if some splendid actor in perfect Acheson dress had stepped suddenly from the wings and I was his only audience.” 
Folks; this is the personification of personal style versus fashion. You can’t buy it in a store nor can you get schooled up on it by reading how-to manuals. You either have it or you don’t. And based on McCullough’s experience, the stuff was dripping off of Acheson. David Acheson devotes an entire chapter…The Well Dressed Man, to his dad’s sartorial proclivities. Here are a few passages for your enjoyment…
“There could be no question that Dad was a thorough, unreconstructed dude, a fashionplate. For the office he was likely to favor a gray or brown or slate blue or navy blue suit, often double breasted.”
“It was not vanity, I thought and still think, which prompted Dad to lavish great care on his dress. Rather it was one of many manifestations of a perfectionist drive that touched everything he did. His aesthetic sense was sharp. It would have offended that sense to put on clothes that in their cut, style, color combination or condition could not have withstood critical scrutiny.”
Treasury Department operative Stanley Surrey speaks of being in a meeting in the 1930’s with Acheson where litigation strategy was being vetted. After the meeting, one of Surrey’s colleagues asked him what the substance of the meeting was. “I haven’t the slightest idea; I was totally absorbed in my study of Mr. Acheson’s symphony in brown and its implications.”
David Acheson offers witness to his dad’s interaction with tailors…“Raise the damn collar—I’m not advertising shirt linen.” He also lists his father’s suppliers including…D’Elia and Marks, Sidney West & Co., Brooks Brothers in New York as well as “Farnsworth-Reed until they moved to a garish shopping mall in suburban Virginia. Subsequently, Dad patronized J. Press when he went to New Haven each month for meetings of the Yale Corporation. In the 1930’s Dad had his shoes made by Peal &Co in London, but their prices went beyond his means in the post-war years.”
 Lordy, I’ve gotta tie all of this back to Belgians and our man here goes. I was completely tickled to read about the dichotomy of Acheson’s professional attire versus his weekend capricious assemblages.
Away from civilization at the farm, Dad dressed for dinner with family and friends in a fashion for which outrageous would be an understatement.  Summer dinner costume, often as not, was lime green slacks, no socks, sandals or Mexican huaraches on the feet, an orange sash falling to the knee. He had the panache of the portrait of Trelawney by Lawrence, without the turban.”
"To his family it did not require explanation that his outrĂ© dress supplied a release from pent up pressures of conformity. His family often tested the limits of outrageousness by giving him articles of dress that even he might think went too far. But it became clear that there were no limits. Green Belgian shoes, pink elephant socks, printed cotton slacks—none of these produced any response from Dad but delight.”
So it turns out that Dean Acheson might well be considered, togs-wise, the weekend High Llama of Fuzzy…the Godly Grand Highness of Go To Hell. And all of this draped upon a man who, as his son attests, on any given Saturday, might be sporting Belgians.

Onward. In Belgians. Dripping. With Delight.


Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wholecuts are Tricky

A reader over at my tumblr asked…“Speaking of shoes, I don't see you wearing many lace-up shoes. (other than white bucks) Is it because you don't hang with the suits? I gather from many of your comments that you are often the most dressed up guy in the room- and that usually means you are That Guy With That Thing Around His Neck. But, if you were in serious banking or, God forbid, law or finance, would you wear oxfords, wingtips, captoes- blucher or otherwise? Special bonus question: where do you stand on wholecuts?”   So I decided to answer the question over here.
Lace-ups? Your observation is correct. They aren’t a huge part of my lineup anymore mostly because suits are such a rare part of my kit these days. The classic Brooks Brethren wingtip above is indeed just that--classic. But it isn't relevant to me anymore. And when I do wear suits, monk straps seem to be adequate. Suits in general and the dressiest most elegant versions especially, might deserve a dressier shoe. Trust me, I know the rules and at one time in my life I used to abide by them rather faithfully. I’m on the record having posited that the world, sartorially and deportment-wise, is already at the bottom of the slippery-ass slope. So when I put on a pair of not-dressy-enough monk strap shoes with a suit, unfortunately, I am by default, better dressed and shod than 89.3783% of humanity. Don’t get me wrong…I’m not better than or earlier in the queue for heaven than 89.3783% of humanity. I come in at about 47.8765% on the former and 22.2232% on the latter. (We don’t round our numbers here. Shut up.)
And yes, I am usually "The Guy With That Thing Around His Neck."
I worked for a very strict and culturally rigid pharma organization for thirteen years. And during those years it would have been career suicide to wear 90% of what I swath and shod in today. My work wardrobe was suits only—no sportcoats, white or blue solid dress shirts, maybe a basic stripe thrown in if my most recent performance review was stellar. And shoe-wise, I wore two lace-up variations exclusively...all-day every-day--for thirteen years. The black cap-toe Allen Edmonds example above represents what was on my feet probably four days a week for thirteen years. Maybe that’s why I have an aversion to black shoes today.
When I was away from the Corporate Colon in New Jersey or Basel, either working in the field or working out of one of the regional offices, the most ambitious I’d ever get, shodding-wise would be a suede cap-toe with a bit of punching/brogueing similar to the above. I’ve often said of my corporate years, before the business casual boondoggle, that I was one of the best dressed guys you’d ever see, Monday through Friday and at best on the weekends…Preppy Homeless. And it was true. After being cinched up...suiting swathed and cap-toed all week, I’d have on a pair of beat-to-shit khakis, Alden tassels or Bean bluchers—no socks of course unless it was snowing…a popped collar knit shirt in the summer or a Shetland crewneck sweater in the winter. Underneath it all however, was always LaPerla.
I’m not anti-lace-ups per se but it seems that in our slovenly world and in my now more casual phase, monk straps are my alternative to a slip-on. But here’s a bit of an update. Be patient and I’ll let you peek at something…probably mid-October. The boys at Cleverley are working on a mongrelized two-eyelet lace up for me. I’d ask that you “picture this” but a healthy mind probably can’t. The shoe above? That’s an Edward Green classic that I literally wore till it could no longer be refurbished—recrafted—resurrected—resuscitated or re-anythinged.
So I’ve re-imagined my old Edward Green shoe but with fuzzy mongrelizations that are gonna make most traditionalists harrumph and cause more ardent devotees and adherents to hurl. Instead of brown suede I’ve opted for a suede color that has slightly more yellow in it than the tobacco or snuff colors that are so beautiful and therefore so ubiquitous. The Cleverley name on the swatch I selected is Brass. To further bastardize standard time-tested models and shapes and colors, I’ve requested an Algonquin split-toe, raised stitching, Cleverley suspiciously square-ish toe, Dainite bottomed assemblage to finish this monkey off. Oh, and with tassels on the laces of course. Picture the Edward Green Leffot shoe above but with the aforementioned tweaks. That’s the best I can do to create a remotely relevant example of how to help your normal mind get a read on what my beautiful mind has con-shod-ulized. Shut up…at least for now. You can howl at me in October when I show you the mess-in-progress.
And I was asked about wholecuts. Bottom line…they are tricky. The very thing that defines the shoe also sets the stage for its rapid…and I mean Astroglide rapid descent down the slippery slope towards Pimp-Disco. Wholecut above? ADG no likey.
The wholecut paucity of line…the sports car prototype sleekness of design are just two things top of my mind that stand me in awe, yet on the cusp of ugh. And any shoe maker will tell you that the skills involved in  making a wholecut properly is a high calling. Go here to see evidence of what I speak. Wholecut above? ADG could probably grow to likey. If you gave it to me.
But man oh man…wholecut slippers? Loafers? It’s a whole ‘nother fuzzy thang.  Go here to see The ShoeSnob’s post that offers a nice representation of ‘em. If you can’t see art and God and beauty in the manifestation above, I feel sorry for you. And so does Gaziano and Girling, the inceptors and creators of this stronger than nine-rows-of-spring-onions example.
I’m broke. Seriously. But in doing some gandering around for examples to augment this story, I’ve happened upon the Bamford by Edward Green pictured above, courtesy of Leffot. And I think I'm gonna have to Bam!
Folks, this is bigger than me…bigger than all of us. This is girlie-slipper-Belgians-ADG fuzzy all to be damned. And how would I wear it? Just like the proprietor of Leffot is preening it above…but without the Sandra Dee jean cuff. Oh, and I’d wear it with Marcoliani socks from Will or Kabbaz and gray flannel trousers or linen togs with no socks. Hell, if I can ever get Roxanne Burgess back over here, I’d wear the darn things nekkid.
When I finish this post I’m gonna cull the requisite number of antique lead soldiers from my shelf, arrange a sale to my go to collector-buyer that I swap such goods with, and take the dosh to Sky Valet and commission the Bamford today—before I go and get my former daughter LFG from dance. But what hide? Have you ever seen the Edward Green swatch book? I only have a zillion choices. Help me. Would you go with suede? EG only has fifty colors. What about shell cordovan? Talk to me.
So it’s off to Los Angeles next week on business. Maybe I better hold off on any more of this shoddingossity till I get to Leather Soul Beverly Hills. Check out Will's story on them here.

Onward. Broke. Bespoke. And shod all to be damned…but only in Belgians this morning. ADG II and soon, but for only a night; the only thing that makes my heart come back alive, one Miss LFG.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Devil and Eight Hundred Dollar Salad Dressing

Fairfax Virginia is about twenty-two miles from Middleburg. I’m finishing a lunch meeting in Fairfax the other week when I remembered how close I was to Middleburg, the little horsey hamlet. The Angel-D.G. on my shoulder said…“You have no business going out there today. Wait till you can go on a sunny Saturday or Sunday with some stunner. You know...have lunch...go in all those girly shops with your date and pretend like you're enjoying it 'cause you know what usually follows.” Yep. I know what usually follows--a nap. Alone.
But the A.Devil-G on my other shoulder said “Don’t be such a  _ussy. You had a great year business-wise, back in 2006 and you’ll have another one in 2014. Blow off the afternoon and head to Middleburg. It’s sunny today and it may rain for the next seventeen weekends. Besides, you are out of salad dressing” So I listened, as I usually do, to the Devil. I was out of salad dressing after all.
 Middleburg by the way, to non-landowners and non-horse people, is an idea mostly. It’s a good idea and one I that I respect. I come from farm people so I understand the idea of country living, stewardship and conservation—land and critter-wise. But for those townies like me who roll into Middleburg and expect anything more than the fifty-five minutes worth of browsing the main street shops, you’ll be disappointed. Vicky Moon in her book Middleburg Mystique sums all this up nicely. And you can buy the Middleburg print above right here.
There are barn tours from time to time and events occasionally that will allow pedestrians a peek into some of the houses and farms. But unless you know people, the true essence of Middleburg won’t manifest for you—ever. And that’s the way the real country living people…the legit horsey folks…like it. You’ll be more likely to see some authentic Middleburg cohorts if you hang out in the Safeway grocery store or one of the saddlery/tack shops off the beaten path as opposed to any of the twee, equestrian tchotchke gift shops on main street.
And how would one know the real thing if they saw it? Four words…patinated, smug, shabby reserve. And circumstantial evidence of authenticity might include a beat up old Jeep Waggoneer or an old, old Rover or Detroit made pickup truck—dirty and dented. Muck shoes or riding boots…muddy or at least scuffed. Beat to shit old keepers tweed hacking jacket-torn pocket unrepaired. Or a Barbour that’s anything but water repellent. Maybe twenty years ago it was.
Declaring myself an outsider helps me enjoy the little glimpses and tastes of Middleburg that I get from time to time. Whether it’s the annual company retreat that my partners and I used to have at the Red Fox Inn when some of the outbuildings were still offered for weekly rentals. Or the social event or post steeplechase party or eleven that I’ve attended through the years. I’m a cheerful visitor…a pleased to be there…outsider. It’s the same orientation I had to my two years in New Orleans. Enjoying the experience without the pressure of trying to belong makes for a reasonably good time. Plus, these folks can spot a poseur a furlong away.
Oh, and for those who are interested in the horsey folks in general, Michael Korda weighs in precisely on the equestrian set in his book, Horse People.
And speaking of the art of revealing poseurs...This is gonna surprise you I know—but I dated an accomplished Equestrienne about three years ago who remains in the horse business and fully immersed and quite respected in the Middleburg and Loudon-Orange Counties horse business-world. She’s the real-deal…an Olympic caliber horsewoman who can separate the wheat from the chaff in about two seconds.
She defined the horsey crowd poseurs in a conversation with me one time as living the “Equestrian Lie.” I kept an email exchange, long after she dumped me. (I’m scared of horses and they know it. I don’t have to be standing beside one for them to sense my fear. I can drive by a fenced-in thoroughbred at sixty miles an hour and said horse can intuit at one hundred yards away that I’m skeered of him. He laughs, running parallel to my car for as long as his fenced-in-ness will allow) You can only make excuses for so long regarding why you can’t/won’t go riding with a horsewoman so I knew that I had it coming--the dumping. 

Here’s the email…“What is the Equestrian Lie? Top line it for me so that I can blog it.”

Many categories here...
1) The large landowners who can actually afford to be members, and are under the false delusion that foxhunting is still considered an exclusive, elitist and moneyed club by the surrounding public.

 2) The wealthy but not large landowners who buy their way into a hunt membership ($250,000.00 in Orange County) in order to be part of the "cool" elite but yet aren't comfortable on a horse.
3) The professional's or "groom's" memberships. These are the individuals that actually have the skill to be on a horse at 25mph over solid obstacles chasing a fox. Unfortunately, they have sub-prime mortgages and have their memberships bought by either group #1 or group #2 as an extremely expensive "babysitter." Main job is to pick up the old gents off the ground, dust them off, and tell them that they rode brilliantly, it was the stupid horse's fault that they're on the ground. The equestrian lie is rampant in many categories.”
Listen--there are poseurs and climbers in all camps…the sailing set in Annapolis comes to mind as well. But there seems to be an excess amongst the horsey set. But please don’t interpret my observations as coming from one who is anti-any of this. I’m not. I just like for people to be real. And by the way, the Fox Hunting ban is nothing but class warfare. It has zero to do, at least from a statistical, unemotional assessment of its impact on the fox population. So for what other reason would one want to ban it? Oh, I forgot. Cruelty. 

I digress--as usual so let's get back to my whatever the hell story this set out to be. I like my Middleburg sorties. And like a lot of my ganderings, they are predictable. Roll into the high street and have lunch at the Red Fox Inn…visit the two remaining legitimate antique and sporting art establishments there remaining, grab a jar or two of my favorite salad dressing at the posh butcher shop—formerly the local bank. And finally, cap it off with a visit to English Country Classics.
But before I get to English Country Classics, let’s take a glimpse at some of the goodies that I saw in the galleries. No surprise that the shops and galleries are geared for their constituents. If you want an early 20th century Swaine-Adeney riding crop, Middleburg would be your go-to locale for such things. Since I’m not in the market for such, I tend to gander the art.
Whippetish-Greyhounds and some kind of terrier...whatever the breed(s) looked like a century and a half ago…here they are.
The prices are predictable but not stunning. I have no wall space left so as much as I’d like to have one of these…
I tend to think that this late 19th century melange-collage-aggregation was painted with someone like me in mind.
Someone like who can’t stay focused or make up their damned mind about much of anything. Yep, I’ll just have one of each.
Two little Coursing pictures…
…a cruel sport? Not really. Both dogs just had to keep up with each other…
I like this one of the two the best.
Dig their sportcoats.

And finally, this vignette was stellar.
I think y’all should pool your money and get me this one for Chanukah ’12.
Around the corner from one of the galleries is a nice little haberdashery that offers an array of tasty goods. I always gander their goods before going over to English Country Classics. I’m all about fuzzy diced mongrelized assemblages. Rules and convention are meant to be trifled with—ADG style. So from a distance, a Nantucket-Brick Red sport coat didn’t seem off-putting.
Till I got closer. Linen and silk hacking jacket with a throat latch. Or as one of my fratty brothers used to say in his Winnsboro South Carolina accent…"thoat”. If the weather says you are in need of latching your lapels in the summer time, chances are your ass is in danger of being struck by lightning. Forget about thoat latching and seek cover.
EnglishCountry Classics reminds me a little bit of England…London precisely…and Cordings even more so. Except that nowadays, English Country Classics is doing it better than those in England. Cordings are hanging on but not without a flurry of off-strategy come ons and vaguely tethered connections to their core uniqueness. I suppose they have to do these things to stay in business since their competitors along Jermyn Street have defaulted to the typical J. Crew—Abercrombie inspired derivative, loud music playing in the store, American bullshit.
The goods there sturdy and classic and rarely on sale. They don’t seem to want or need to play that game. Brooks Brothers, amidst the May-June sweet spot that used to be the time when if your goods were tasty, you were able to facilitate a change in their ownership for full retail price, is offering me 30% off on almost everything in the store. It’s a shell-game I reckon. Mark it up--then mark it down. 
I generally don’t buy things out of season unless they are marked down to levels absurd. Surprise…I’m an ADD capricious instant gratification guy so I don’t fancy getting stuff and putting it away till later. And God knows I don’t need a third quilted coat. But I did. And let me explain...let me rationalize why I paid full retail and why this quilted number is now happily put away till probably October.
God and goodness often avail themselves in the details. And this quilted wonder is loaded with nuanced little game changers. It’s cut like a sport coat. Three-two roll with a ticket pocket. I mean come on. That’s rationale for procurement right there.
“But couldn’t you just wait till late September to buy it, ADG? Plus, look at that thing. The cut is so much like a sport coat that it won't offer much warmth and protection.” Maybe. But I wasn’t going to risk it. The other thing that’s good about English Country Classics is that they don’t buy deep. And their tasty bits are commissioned from small volume artisans who don’t have a toll-free number for merchants to restock standard staples. There’s nothing standard here and once it’s gone, it’s usually gone for good.
Especially quilted jackets with gray flannel piping.
Remember…I can rationalize just about anything. Including buying an accompanying tattersal shirt on a scale that transcends ADG fuzziness. This one’s off the chart, scale-wise. It’s tumescent. It’s turgid. It’s tattersal. And it’s mine. Shut up.
Most guys end up owning more than one navy blazer so I’m hereby using navy blazer rationalization for quilted goods. And this one just happens to be…navy as well. With double vents.
There's even a zippered pocket inside for your car keys, asthma inhaler and your AstroGlide.
Is it too sporty to offer any decent protection against the elements? Absolutely not. Cinch it up and you've got full coverage. 
Oh, and before I go…look at this off the rack baby that remains out there in Middleburg...a well cut hacking jacket siren... beckoning me. And God and the Devil know that I need another sport coat. The only reason I tried this one on was to simply do a quality of goods and accuracy of fit/cut review. Really.
Nice ain't it?

Onward. Quilted. Oh, and be nice to your mama an 'em today.